Exclaim!'s Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One Best of 2018
Published Dec 04, 2018Today (December 4), we begin rolling out the best of the best albums of 2018, and we're beginning with our Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums of the year, from 20 to 11 — including favourites from boygenius, Arctic Monkeys, Parquet Courts and more.
Tune in tomorrow (December 5) for albums 10 through number one, then December 6 for our Top 10 Folk & Country Albums and December 7 for our Top 10 Metal and Hardcore Albums.
Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums of 2018, 20 to 11:
Songs of Praise
With the release of Songs of Praise this January, South London's Shame launched their quest to infiltrate the ears and hearts of jaded, post-punk enthusiasts across the globe. The young quintet of long-time mates' razor-sharp British wit and technical skill permeates their debut full-length, whose succinct 10 tracks burst with potency.
Propelled by melodious force, lead singer Charlie Steen barks, wails and spits introspective musings on the world at large. "Do you overuse the technique of not thinking before you speak?" he asks on the delirious, hazy "Friction," before turning on his heel during "Lampoon," a frenetic burst of short-lived chaos, to menacingly declare that "[his] tongue will never grow tired."
There's no shortage of white male guitar bands, but the urgency and unrefined nature of Shame's music proves vital; Songs of Praise is an exceptional first offering that cements the band's status as ones to watch.
Puff LP: In the air without a shape
(Arts & Crafts)
Bernice have their heads in the clouds on this long-awaited follow-up to 2011's What Was That, but their eclectic mix of jazz-inflected instrumentation and left-field textural synth experimentation puts a trick wind in the sails, and pushes Robin Dann's contemplative, honeyed vocal lines into a range of whimsically glorious horizons. It all artfully defies the perceived formal restrictions of pop and R&B music.
The songs on Puff LP come from places of profound, rainy sadness, deep introspection, play and daydream fancy, and Bernice manoeuvre them with a steadfast warmth that invites you in to feel it out from a place of comfort.
18. Young Fathers
Cocoa Sugar is the third in an inventive string of records from Edinburgh trio Young Fathers that eclipse genre categorizations. Leaning in more of a pop direction than their previous work, the album experiments with a rich palette of vocalizations and textures. Its songs grapple with timely topics like racism and immigration, and are shot through with the group's unique point of view and ability to convey ideas viscerally. The voices of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham Hastings take on different characteristics, dipping into R&B and pop hooks on "In My View," playing with gospel on "Lord" and imbuing an organ-led dirge with passion on "Tremolo."
Accomplished rappers and vocalists who harness the absurdity of the current cultural and political climate, Young Fathers have created their own sonic space. Cocoa Sugar's steady pacing and varied sonic textures — from the bass and beat-heavy "Wire" to the earnest layered vocals leading "Picking You" — grant listeners time in the trio's unique world, one whose communality is sorely needed.
17. Soccer Mommy
Soccer Mommy, aka Sophie Allison, processes a lot on her hypnotic debut studio LP, Clean. The Nashville-based artist is in love; she's in lust; she's annoyed; and she absolutely doesn't want to be your fucking dog.
Whatever the feeling driving her songs, Allison coolly delivers them with confidence and charm. The album is a soft pop-rock combo of slow burners ("Wildflowers," "Scorpio Rising") and upbeat, impossibly catchy tracks ("Cool," "Last Girl") that flow from one to the next with ease. It's this blend of tender sounds and Allison's commanding lyricism that allow Clean to shine.
Boygenius, the collaborative project of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, is a shining example of what happens when artists naturally come together and find an instant, perfect chemistry. Their respective careers have developed in parallel so far — self-doubt, vulnerability, heartbreak, and faith are all common, integral themes to each artist's individual work, and together they push each other to wonderful new heights.
On "Stay Down," Baker's affecting intensity is heightened by the full band behind her, and on Bridgers' unyielding confessional "Me & My Dog," the stark emptiness is filled when Baker and Dacus join her voice in beautiful unison. The three trade off verses on "Souvenir," with each of their crushing testimonies reciprocated in solidarity, and later, Dacus's dead-level earnestness leads the trinity of intimacy on the revelatory "Salt in the Wound." It's one of the many magical moments of camaraderie on the all-too-short six-track EP; we can only hope this supergroup is more than just a one-off for these brilliant young songwriters.